The Data Economy: EA Unlocks Immersive Gaming Experiences with Real-Time Data and Emerging Tech

The Data Economyis a video podcast series about leaders who use data to make positive impacts on their business, customers, and the world. To see all current episodes, explore the podcast episodes library below.

It can be easy for technology leaders to get shiny object syndrome—to be dazzled by the promise of NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and the metaverse. and yet, falling behind emerging tech can lead to digital disruption. At Electronic Arts (EA), Farah Ali’s job is to focus on the emerging technologies that will impact her business and customers over the next several years. 

Farah is Vice President of Technology Growth Strategy at EA, which is one of the world’s largest video game companies known for a portfolio of well-known titles, including The Sims, Madden, and FIFA. However, EA’s mission goes far beyond developing games. The company focuses on building delightful player experiences by using gaming, as Farah says, “to build connection and meaning while keeping curiosity alive, and doing so regardless of a player’s age or background.” 

Farah, a recent guest of The Data Economy podcast, discusses the important role data plays in improving customer experience, how the cloud is helping EA to scale, and many of the challenges companies targeting real-time customer experiences are likely to face.

When a company fully embraces customer experience as part of its mission like EA has, you can count on technology and data to play a critical role in every aspect of the business. 

And when it comes to data, EA has an abundance of it. The company receives petabytes of data daily, Farah says, with more than 300 games and 500 million players in the EA ecosystem. There’s also historical data dating back to the company’s founding in 1982, some of which still plays a role in decision-making, Ali says. 

Like many CIOs and CTOs, Farah is focused on ensuring EA stays on top of technology trends. At EA, that means making full use of data and planning for the emerging metaverse, along with keeping up with other emerging technologies, such as NFTs, in-car gaming, and more.

Identifying the need for real-time data

Many CIOs and CTOs covet a single-pane-of-glass view into all of their company’s data. It’s a worthy goal, yet Farah says that technology leaders should strive to do more than provide data—where possible, they should seek to build tools that provide actionable insights. 

“People don’t like looking at graphs. They don’t like looking at dashboards. They want to understand the data in the context of what they’re doing,” says Farah. 

Real-time data can be especially helpful for certain roles and functions, empowering leaders to make decisions faster and ensure optimal customer experiences. Farah has identified where real-time data is most powerful at EA. She describes the four key personas her teams consider when determining who benefits from real-time data access. While serving business functions is important, she highlights how real-time data is important to the product managers, developers, and data scientists charged with building and enhancing games.

“Are the players actually interacting with the game the way it was intended? It’s a constant loop of playtesting, getting the data, going back to the drawing board, and iterating. There’s a lot of real-time telemetry, but it’s not always just for live games, it’s also for games that are currently under production,” she says.

CTOs who are focused on improving real-time customer experiences, developing digitally enabled products, or experimenting with emerging technologies should note that the product, DevOps, and data science organizations will be the first customers of real-time data platforms.

Real-time data and experience are often associated with preventing lag. In the podcast, Farah explains how her team takes it a step further, using it to personalize at scale, create new worlds, cultivate realism, and improve overall game quality.

Estimating traffic for cloud migrations and peak usage periods

Flexibility and agility are critical when hundreds of millions of global users access your systems. Several years ago, EA made the deliberate decision to move nearly all of its workloads to the cloud, citing scale and efficiency as the primary reasons for the move. “It really helps us plan,” says Farah.

Any CIO who has ever tried to guess what traffic will look like during a new product launch or holiday sale will appreciate the challenges she describes in the podcast. EA taps years of historical data to estimate how many peak users they’ll have during key events. Having real-time data collection and monitoring tools ensures that adjustments can be made in real-time when traffic spikes or dips unexpectedly. 

“Even if we’re off by a big magnitude, from one to twenty, we can still course correct if we are monitoring,” Farah says. 

The world is no longer static or slow-moving, so technology organizations in most industries should develop their data processing and platforms with the future in mind. IT leaders and architects may benefit from the data stream and telemetry analytics for processing time-series data, especially with IoT, financial transactions, and anytime there are large volume and velocity data sources.

Exploring virtual worlds and the metaverse

While the cloud is now commonplace, virtual worlds may be the next frontier in gaming and other customer experiences. As Farah thinks about the possibilities presented by the convergence of the elements that make up the metaverse—social media, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), online gaming, crypto currencies, and more—she notes the importance of gameplay experiences for players and making sure they have the best user experience. 

While some CIOs and CTOs may be wondering if they should even be paying attention to the metaverse, Farah is already asking questions about how players will be able to move their online identities between platforms. 

“There’s a lot of content that people will create. Who’s responsible for governing that?” she asks. “It’s the collective community that will decide what those experiences look like, whether something should be personalized or not, so I’m very curious how that will evolve.”

Farah’s role requires her to be on the lookout for emerging trends to turn into incubation and exploration projects that could someday fuel the future of EA. And at the core of it all is processing, storing, and developing analytics on real-time and aggregated data.

It’s challenging to forecast when technologies will become mainstream and impact customer experiences. Technology and data leaders can future-proof their architecture by standardizing on multicloud data layers and optimizing with flexible data structures. CIOs, CDOs, architects, and data scientists should blend internal and external data sources to support real-time decision-making, middle-term road mapping, and longer-term forecasting.

Tune in to the podcast to hear more of Farah’s insights on improving customer experiences, scaling real-time data platforms, and planning for emerging technologies.

Watch more episodes of The Data Economy podcast.